“This son came to ask if Royal Father remembers my mother.” Qi Yun stared at the emperor and noted the flash of surprise and derision on the man’s face. It made his fury burn hotter.
Before the emperor could respond, he took a deep breath and continued, “When I was young, my mother was the only one by my side. Royal Father is too busy to even pay me a visit. Mother was never allowed to attend the family dinner due to her lower background… Days after days, she waited for the man who’d promised her a lifetime of happiness to come, but he never did. She was still defending you even right before her death… She should’ve led a carefree life, but she was trapped in this palace with no end in sight.”
His eyes turned red as he swallowed a sob, reminiscing about the loved one he’d lost.
“I only have one question for you,” Qi Yun said slowly, pronouncing every syllable. “Have you ever regretted it?”
The emperor frowned. After a long pause, he asked in a strange voice, “Regret what?”
A peel of sharp laughter escaped Qi Yun’s mouth. The emperor’s face grew dark. Before he could say anything else, Qi Yun stopped laughing and shot him a frigid glare. “Regret what? How can you ask that? Fine, let me tell you what you should regret. You should regret trapping her in the palace but never showing her any love. You should regret getting her killed.”
“Enough!” snapped the emperor. “Have you forgotten you are my son? You’re getting too bold! You have no right to question me!”
Qi Yun stared at him with venom in his eyes. After the emperor was done scolding him, he said, “Isn’t Royal Father suspecting this son? Then let me tell you this: I allied with Brother Nan long ago, and I knew about Prince Duan’s plan beforehand.”
“I asked Brother Nan to circle the palace so that Prince Duan would make his move. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have known how Royal Father really thinks of me. Since you already consider me a villain, I should play the part, shouldn’t I?”
The emperor cowered under Qi Yun’s sharp gaze, his robe and hair drenched by sweat. He looked ridiculous with his dark red face.
Qi Yun’s words hit the emperor where he was most tender. There was no love left in Qi Yun’s heart, only the thrill of revenge.
The emperor trembled in fury and threw a teacup at Qi Yun, who easily dodged it and seized his father’s wrist.
“What the hell are you doing?” The emperor was frightened by his son’s reaction, his voice shaking without him realizing.
“What does Royal Father think this son is going to do?” Qi Yun approached the emperor and asked, his lips curved into a terrifyingly cruel smile.
The emperor’s pupils contracted. He’d never been this scared before, not even when Qi Chen stormed the palace. He knew Qi Chen wanted only the throne and nothing else, and thus wouldn’t actively try to hurt him. Qi Yun was different. He was looking for more.
“Are you going to commit treason?” The emperor struggled with all he’d gotten, but Qi Yun was too strong for him to resist. “Guards! Arrest this man! Guards!”
No one answered his call.
The old eunuch opened the door. Qi Yun glanced at him and let go of the emperor, who fell onto the bed, panting, his face pale.
“How did it go?” Qi Yun asked coolly.
The eunuch answered without sparing the emperor a glance, “Prince Nan Xun made his way here in time and restrained all the guards outside.”
All color drained from the emperor’s face. Not even in his worst nightmare could he imagine being played by his son, and the one son he’d deemed incompetent before. It shocked him even more that his confidante had defected to Qi Yun.
He broke into laughter with his gaze fixed on Qi Yun, who looked back at him calmly.
“Do you think you’ve won?” the emperor sneered. “Haha, you can’t get what you want even after everything you’ve done! I’ve decreed that Prince Duan is to be prince regent with the ninth prince on the throne. You can’t be the emperor even after I die!”
There were tears in his eyes from laughing too hard.
The old eunuch snorted. “Your Majesty, I’m afraid the prince has anticipated that as well. He’s ordered this old servant to replace the imperial seal. The decree you’ve drafted before is kept safe in my hands. The fourth prince, who Your Majesty favors so much, is going to take the throne after your death.”
The emperor widened his eyes in shock. In the end, he still ended up falling into Qi Yun’s trap. He hadn’t expected Qi Yun to know about everything he’d done. Did his son refrain from making a move just to see him make a fool of himself?
On this side of the door, father and son had a falling out, and a servant betrayed his master. On the other side of the door, Nan Xun had surrounded the palace with a group of soldiers, stopping anyone from getting close and forcing the imperial army to surrender or face death. There was no hope for the emperor. He struggled to breathe properly.
Qi Yun narrowed his eyes at the emperor and took slow strides towards the throne, his lips curved. “Royal Father may entrust Northern Qi to me. I’ll continue your unfinished business and unite the world.”
The emperor widened his eyes. He couldn’t believe this young man was the boy who’d yearned for his love and stubbornly waited for his arrival even after he stopped visiting, or the loyal son who’d attended to his illness day and night. This was a devil. A calculating devil who’d done all he could to kill the emperor and take the throne.
Blood rushed out of the emperor’s throat and splattered out, dyeing Qi Yun’s white silk robe red. Qi Yun seemed completely unfazed. He watched the emperor with a smile as the older man collapsed and drew his last breath, his eyes wide open even in death.
Qi Yun exhaled deeply and wiped away the blood on his face. He smoothed a hand over his father’s eyes and closed his own eyes to steady himself.
The eunuch reached out to support him and said worriedly, “Your Highness should take care of yourself.”
Qi Yun waved him away and cleared his throat. When he opened his eyes again, his gaze was bright and clear. He rubbed at his temple and took two steps backward. “Clean him up and change his clothes. We’ll announce his death in the morning.”
The eunuch nodded and made a move to walk him out, but he shook his head and left the palace on his own. When he opened the door, the sky was starting to turn bright. Once the sun rose, it’d be a brand new day. He felt a little sad, but he didn’t know what for.
He knew Nan Xun was watching him from a distance, but he didn’t have the strength to deal with him. He wanted to be alone, so he went straight to his residence.
Prince Duan had gotten wind of the emperor’s death. He heard Qi Yun was going to make the announcement in the morning, so he didn’t rush. His smile deepened as he envisioned himself bring the decree to the court.
The morning meeting came. The officials waited in the main palace for the emperor to show up, but after half an hour, people were starting to talk. Suddenly, Qi Yun walked into the room in a white mourning robe, his expression lost and his eyes red.
“His Majesty… passed away.” Drops of tears streamed down his face as he dropped down to the floor with great force. The loud thud rang through the palace. The courtiers were in a state of shock.
A sob broke the thick silence. Then the whole room started weeping for the emperor’s death. Whether they were genuine tears was a different story.
When the time was right, Prince Duan walked to the center of the hall. Everyone turned to look at him, wondering what he was going to do.
“I visited His Majesty yesterday and he issued me a decree, stating that should anything happen to him, the ninth prince will take the throne with me as prince regent.”
Qi Yun scoffed, staring at Prince Duan calmly. “What are you doing here with a fake decree? Do you not know what punishment that’ll get you?”
“What nonsense are you spouting off?” snapped Prince Duan.
Qi Yun shrugged with an impassive expression, which made Prince Duan second-guess himself. He took a careful look at the decree and widened his eyes when he noticed that the seal wasn’t the right one. How could he have missed that yesterday?! He’d been played by Qi Yun! Now it was too late for him to do anything.
It wasn’t difficult to deduce what had happened. Some of the courtiers in attendance silently laughed at his plight. Qi Yun didn’t spare Prince Duan any attention and instead called out for the guards.
“Prince Duan has falsified a decree out of malicious intent, trying to disrupt the court in this troubled time. Investigation is needed to find out all the facts. He is to be kept in prison at the time being.”
The two guards circled Prince Duan, who pushed them away before they could touch him. He bared his teeth at Qi Yun and growled, “Don’t lay a finger on me. I can walk on my own.”
Qi Yun watched until Prince Duan had been taken away. The old eunuch entered the hall and recited the decree the emperor had drafted some time ago. The senior courtiers knew the eunuch was one of the emperor’s confidantes, but they requested to check the decree in case this was a fraud as well. Qi Yun and the eunuch let them to it without any resistance.
After careful inspection, the courtiers concluded that the decree was legitimate. They knelt on the floor and bowed to their new emperor. Qi Yun looked down at them, overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions he couldn’t decipher.